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Thoughts on the Experience API

Thoughts on the Experience API

I first published my thoughts on the Experience API (Tin Can), back in 2012, when it was first emerging. Since then, the Experience API has gone onto address many of the shortcomings associated with the SCORM standards.

What’s wrong with the SCORM approach?

The previous standards used for eLearning - predominantly SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004 - are inherently problematic in many ways. Here are a few of the top issues with SCORM:

  • It’s overly complex, convoluted and open to interpretation in too many areas. It’s rare to meet anyone who has worked with eLearning for any amount of time not to have come across interoperability issues.
  • It assumes and is reliant on JavaScript and browser-based content – OK up to a point, but what about the world of mobile learning Apps? What about classroom based training? What about simulation and game-based training? What about all of the other learning experiences out there in the “real world” that people encounter on a regular basis?
  • The existing SCORM standards were developed many years ago and many years before the emergence of mobile devices. Developing SCORM based solutions that work with mobile devices and work offline while disconnected is tough – much harder than it needs to be.
  • The content requires some form of learning management system (LMS) to host and manage the content.
  • It’s very limited in terms of the learner tracking data that can be recorded and subsequently reported on.
  • It’s concerned solely with computer based and online training content and has no connection with, or support for any other form of learning. This means that additional bespoke solutions need to be developed to support tracking of other forms of training (classroom based, simulation based, experiential and more).

With a SCORM only approach, establishing and recording a ‘complete picture’ of an individual’s or team’s learning and development history is difficult. This is largely because SCORM based eLearning is treated in isolation from other forms of learning - which, when you think about it, is far from ideal and a rather strange state of affairs.

How does the Experience API work?

The Experience API is based on statements that are sent from the content (or ‘activities’ as the Experience API refers to them) to an Learning Record Store (LRS). These statements are all based around a very simple sentence structure:

At its most simple, this can be stated as ‘I did something’.

Examples might include, “Alex read a book”, “Peter completed compliance training”, “Jane achieved green belt in jujitsu”, “Chris attended a webinar” and so on.

Statements can get a little more elaborate and can include context information. For example:

“Steve completed Company Induction Training with a result of 85% on 21st Feb at 14:35.”

Using this approach, the Experience API can capture everything you can capture in SCORM, but it also provides much more flexibility by enabling the addition of new nouns, verbs, and objects.

The Learning Record Store

The record keeper for these learning events is the LRS. This could be an LMS with extended support for Experience API, but it doesn’t have to be. An LRS on its own could simply provide the repository for learning statements. To be of much use it would also need to include a way of extracting the data through reports.

The key thing to remember is that the LRS can be located anywhere and the content when it is created doesn’t need to know where. Furthermore, the LRS doesn’t need to know in advance about the content - the location of the content, the type of content or even the identity of the learner consuming the content.

Top 5 benefits of the Experience API

I believe the Experience API is having a profound impact on the way we think about, create, host and track eLearning and learning content. For me, the top five benefits are:

1. It completely decouples content from host LMS

Content can be launched and consumed from anywhere and the content can use any form factor. There is no longer a need for a supporting LMS – just a LRS – somewhere to store learning records and achievement events.

2. It enables content authors to build content in any way they like

There is no more reliance on the browser and associated browser-based technologies. Content authors can now choose the most appropriate form factor and technology for their content, yet still enable individuals to record learning events and achievements. Developers of mobile apps, simulators and games can all use the Experience API to track learning events.

3. It supports disconnected scenarios

The content doesn’t need a continual Internet or server connection. So long as it can occasionally connect, learning events can easily be held locally and then replayed to the LRS when next connected. This is ideal for mobile learning and disconnected scenarios in general.

4. It supports platform transition

This refers to the fact that you can start consuming some content on your computer at work, continue with it on your mobile device while travelling home, and then finish it later perhaps on your home computer.

This capability is more down to the content and the way it’s delivered, but the Experience API inherently supports this mode of operation. It’s commonplace already, with eBook readers such as Kindle and Apple’s iBooks, where your current chapter position is tracked across devices and with learning platforms such as Agylia where you can seamlessly switch between web and mobile form factors while consuming content.

5. It will help to unify eLearning with learning in general

Learning events and achievements can be recorded based on learning, as opposed to your completion of a piece of eLearning. So classroom based training, experiential training in the workplace, game-based training, recording the fact you’ve read a new book or attended a seminar and learned something – all of this is accommodated.

Agylia and the Experience API

The Agylia platform features an integrated LRS and all activity tracking is managed by using the Experience API. The SCORM content hosted by the platform uses a SCORM to Experience API adapter to ensure that it is tracked in a consistent manner and recorded within the LRS.

The Experience API has also underpinned recent innovations in the platform including ‘external learning activities’ which enable users to capture learning related activity occurring outside of the LMS (continuing professional development (CPD) recording being a common example), and ‘tasks’ which support action based learning in the workplace alongside evidence uploads by students and two-way tutor / manager-student interaction.

Alex Mackman
Author: Alex Mackman

This article was published by Alex Mackman on 12.09.2016. I'm Technical Director for Agylia. I'm responsible for the product strategy and operations side of our business. I'm passionate about technology - specifically how it can be applied to learning.

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